My friend Don Evans, the founder and Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, is a master of producing great celebratory events honoring Chicago writers, past and present. Don runs his organization on a shoestring budget, yet his productions are always at beautiful venues, free to the public, and features some of the best of Chicago’s creative community as participants.
Last evening’s induction of Roger Ebert into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, held at the new American Writers Museum on Michigan Avenue, was one such event. The emcee was Rick Kogan, the fabled Tribune features writer and radio interviewer. Rick told the story about how impressed his father, Herman Kogan, the editor of Panorama, the literary supplement of the Daily News, was when Ebert submitted a short piece to him on Brendan Behan, shortly after the Irish writer’s death in 1964. Panorama published the piece, introducing Ebert to Chicago’s newspaper audience.
A few years later, in 1967, at the age of 25, Ebert was hired by the Sun-Times, as its film critic. His career with the newspaper was enduring and prolific, lasting to his death in 2013. No American newspaper film critic was better than Ebert, who became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.
However it was the medium of television that catapulted Ebert to fame, partnering in movie review shows first with Gene Siskel, and later with Richard Roeper. Last evening Roeper shared some wonderful personal memories about his late friend and colleague. Ebert’s editor for nearly twenty years at the Sun-Tmes, Laura Emerick, reminisced about the brilliance of his writing.
Ebert’s wife, Chaz, was the last and most powerful speaker at the ceremony. Like others she spoke of his writing genius, but she emphasized the greatness of his humanity and his passion for social justice, i.e. Ebert, the man, as a model for all of us to emulate.
Ron Rapoport was one of my favorite local sportswriters when he wrote for the Sun-Times. Now Ron is back in town promoting his new book, The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner, and partaking of the celebrations centering around Lardner’s induction into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame on May 4. Lardner was a great sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune in the early twentieth century, as well as writing incisively on the American political and cultural scenes.
I hope that you will be able to join me on Thursday afternoon, May 4, at the Cliff Dwellers for lunch and a presentation by Ron on his new book. We will start at noon, although doors open at 11:30 for time to mingle beforehand. The price for the lunch and program is $30.00. Reservations are required. Email to reserve at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312-922-8080.
A few days ago, as part of the Evanston Literary Festival, Don Evans, the Executive Director of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame, put together a panel of literary folks at the Bookends & Beginnings book store to discuss Chicago’s great books. Author Toni Nealie was the panelist who discussed Chicago’s canon of nonfiction. She brought a list of her top picks and shared it with the audience. It’s a fairly comprehensive and spot on list, but I would have added two masterful collection of essays——Sydney J. Harris’ Strictly Personal and Joseph Epstein’s Snobbery. Peruse the list and let me know if you think others should be added.
I first read Upton Sinclair’s great muckraking novel The Jungle in high school and the book made an immediate impression on me. The horrific description of the careless processing of animal products on the slaughtering floor of the Chicago Stockyards made me think twice when my mother offered me brisket or lamb chops for dinner. I think that I abstained from eating hot dogs for a year.
The Jungle’s protagonist, the Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus, represents the Everyman of the tens of thousands of European newcomers struggling to make a living and support their families in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century and in the beginning of the twentieth.
Sinclair’s The Jungle still resonates controversy today. On the evening of April 14, at 6:30 pm, the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame and the Jane Addams-Hull House Museum are co-sponsoring an event centered on The Jungle. A discussion will be led by Northwestern Associate Professor Bill Savage. There will also be a special performance by Andrew Rathgeber from the Oracle Theater.
This free event is open to the public and is at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S. Halsted in Chicago.
I first met David Hernandez at La Gente, a storefront community organization in Lakeview on Halsted Avenue in 1974. I was taking a Spanish conversation course there on Saturday mornings, taught by my friend Jerry Schenwar. I was hanging around after class talking to Jerry, when David walked in. He was going to be doing a poetry reading that evening at La Gente, so he invited us to attend.
Jerry didn’t make it that night, but I did. I was blown away by the power of David’s words, capturing the rhythms and cadences of those mean streets that he called home in Chicago’s Puerto Rican barrio. David, who was a year or two younger than me, in his mid-twenties, truly was a poet, and I envied him for his achievements at such a young age. That night I bought his book “Despertando.”
Over the years, I bumped into David a few times at both political and cultural events. He read poems at Mayor Harold Washington’s inaugurations and funeral. He had good street cred, and was admired greatly both in his own community and citywide. He died last year at the age of 66. This year, on December 6, David will be inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame. For more information on the induction ceremony go to www.chicagoliteraryhof.org
The 2014 induction class of six for the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame definitely has a poetic tilt to it. Three of the inductees, Edgar Lee Masters, Margaret Walker and David Hernandez are known first and foremost as poets. A fourth, Shel Silverstein wrote copious poetry, as well as children’s’ books and popular songs. A fifth, Margaret Anderson, introduced Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot to the American literary scene by publishing their poems in her periodical, The Little Review. Only the sixth, the writer Willard Motley, does not seem to have any connection to the world of poetry.
Join me and other friends and supporters of the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame as we induct this poetic group at a ceremony in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University on the evening of December 6. For more information go to http://www.chicagoliteraryhof.org
Anne and I toured Chicago’s historic Fine Arts Building today and came across room number 917, the first home of The Little Review, from 1914 until 1917. Margaret Anderson was the founder and editor of The Little Review , a highly influential literary magazine that published, early on in their careers, notables such as James Joyce, Ezra Pond and Carl Sandburg, just to name a few.
Margaret Anderson was one of two grande dames of the Chicago Literary Renaissance that took place in the first two decades of the 20th century (the other being Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry magazine). Interestingly, Ms. Monroe also, at one time, had an office in the Fine Arts Building.
Ms. Anderson will be inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame this coming December 6th, at a ceremony in Roosevelt University’s magnificent Ganz Hall. To find out more about the ceremony go to chicagoliteraryhof.org.